So far we have looked at how several key themes—history, sexuality, relationships, and fatherhood—are mobilized by the conspiracy in society at large to promote a specific and prescriptive vision of masculinity that bears little witness to the diversity of men’s experiences. In this chapter we will look at how archetypes have been used as a way of understanding masculinity within the context of men’s movement literature that began gaining momentum in the early 1990s, and which has continuing influence today.
An archetype is a template that can be used to describe various universal themes and motifs, most commonly employed in myths. The psychologist Carl Jung used archetypes as a way of understanding particular models of human behavior and characteristics, the basis of which can be discovered deep in the human psyche, and is shared across people and cultures. To be sure, this is a very simplistic description of Jung’s understanding of archetypes, which was both complex and dependent on the stages of his own conceptual development. However, the way the men’s movement uses Jungian archetypes is equally simplistic, so it will suffice for our discussion, at least as we allow the conspiracy to talk in its own voice in the first section, The Conspiracy. We’ll tentatively scratch the surface of what else resides behind the concept of archetypes in the following sections, the analytical The Problem, and the more visionary The Solution.
The two books examined in this chapter are themselves archetypal of men’s movement literature, or a particular type of men’s movement called the mythopoetic men’s movement, which made use of myth, metaphor and story to understand models for masculinity. The mythopoetic men’s movement is most notably connected with the poet Robert Bly, and we will look at his 1990 book Iron John: A Book About Men. Bly’s book started a movement that garnered significant media attention at the time with stories about men’s groups taking place in the woods, where partially-clothed and bearded men would get in touch with their “inner,” “mature,” or “deep” masculinity. Shortly after this came our second book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. These two books catalyzed a large volume of literature that, while less read today within the context of the men’s movement, is still influential in the way various forms of personal development coaches, popular psychologists and spiritual gurus describe masculinity.